The Lord’s Ascension to heaven was joyfully celebrated

Under a peaceful sky, on Thursday, May 10, the Franciscans and faithful gathered around the Chapel of the Ascension to joyfully celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the risen Christ into heaven. In the cross-shaped shrine atop the Mount of Olives, not everyone was able to enter due to lack of space. This did not discourage the pilgrims who flocked there. The Feast of the Ascension is the one and only day that the Eucharist can be celebrated in this place. Converted into a mosque many centuries ago, the concession allowing [the Franciscans] to celebrate mass 40 days after Easter at the shrine was obtained by the friars in the past by offering everyone in the neighborhood a hearty meal of rice and chicken every year. This privilege has since been enshrined by the Status Quo. Even now, a snack was shared with those participating in Vespers the night before the celebration.

The first pilgrims’ ascent, on foot and by bus, took place around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 9. The celebrations began with the solemn entry of the custodial vicar, Br. Dobromir Jasztal, who presided over the festivities. At the end of Vespers that were sung at the same time, the friars made the traditional three circles around the shrine—a powerful component of the Jerusalemite ritual—during the recitation of the Litany of the Saints. While some were having a snack, others enjoyed the tranquility of the shrine and venerated the place from which Christ rose, lingering on this natural stone that is flush with the ground and where tradition has recognized Christ’s footprint left in the rock. The afternoon ended with Night Prayer.

A second ascent to the Mount of Olives was completed in the middle of the night. At 11 p.m., the Vigil was sung. Then, throughout the end of the night, many masses were celebrated at the shrine and on the portable altars installed on both sides. Groups of pilgrims from the Holy Land and from around the world thus commemorated Christ’s Ascension at the very place where the event took place. In the early morning, the festivities ended with the solemn mass. Many pilgrims had made the trip, and for some this was their third ascent. During his homily, the custodial vicar, Br. Dobromir, recalled that this goodbye to Christ was not a sad farewell: “The traditional conception that heaven is perceived as a mysterious and empty space, above the earth, in which God dwells, could perhaps leave us impassive, discouraged, or even make us feel unaccountable for the mission that has been entrusted to us. Instead, the Spirit of Truth, which was given to us when we became believers, tells us that with Jesus we have all come up [here] with the hope and the promise that one day we will be with our Lord and Master, close to God.” It is with this teaching that Christ sent his disciples to proclaim the Good News, and so too we are sent today: “Just like back then, talso oday, the world and the environments in which we live must to be free from the demon of jealousy, malice and hatred. Maybe it will be hard to learn many languages in order to communicate with many people, but it is easy to speak a new language understood by all: the language of charity and the brotherly love that Jesus himself taught us.”

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